Orlando – In an exclusive interview with Watermark, Mikael Audebert, the former executive director of Come Out With Pride, addressed allegations of fraud, financial mismanagement, and an ongoing criminal case.
In November, the Metropolitan Business Association—COWP’s parent organization—suspended the COWP board and fired Audebert. Since then, he’s faced accusations of financial wrongdoing and fraud. The top question is whether Audebert plans to file a lawsuit in response, and he said he’s consulting with legal counsel.
“I can tell you that [a lawsuit is] a high probability but I haven’t made a final decision yet,” he said. “The lawsuit would be purely on character assassination. As you’ve seen in the media, there’s a lot of ugliness. That ugliness truly is not necessary.”
Audebert said the suit would be against MBA, COWP and both organizations’ board members, and he will make a final decision on whether to file within the next week or so.
Nayte Carrick, current MBA president, confirms that no suit has been filed as of press time.
Another area that has invited speculation is the criminal case Audebert is currently navigating. In 2009, he was charged with two counts of grand theft and one count of organized fraud, which some claimed is evidence that his MBA/COWP dealings are likely shady, as well. Audebert said the charges stem from a travel business that folded in 2008 before he could make good on trips to a number of clients.
“Out of that started an investigation by a local police department which I did not cooperate with and it was a mistake of mine,” Audebert said. “I did not cooperate with that investigation because I thought this was just a matter of bankruptcy. I did not give my side of the story.”
He said the investigation lasted about a year before he was charged in 2009.
“I immediately advised the MBA board and I have the email to prove so,” he said, and he did provide a memo to the board from then-president Dr. David Hargrove, stating the MBA’s official position should board members be asked about Audebert’s legal troubles.
The next hearing in the case is Jan. 28.
As far as his time as president of the MBA and executive director of Come Out With Pride, Audebert admits that there were problems.
“If people want to focus on the mistakes that I may have made managing four organizations [MBA, COWP and two other subsidiaries] on my own, that’s fine,” he said. “I probably made some mistakes.”
He said a key mistake was not firing people who did not do their jobs, leading to some of the problems the organizations are currently facing.
“But I can assure you there’s absolutely nothing illegal that has been done under my tenure at those organizations,” Audebert said. “And my mistakes of the past, I’m paying for that. This failure of my business, I’m paying for them and I continue to pay for it.”
Audebert argues that failed businesses are not an indication of his character.
“I am not good at managing a business on my own. I have a lot of strengths but also have a lot of weaknesses,” he said. “One of my strengths is that I’m a creative person. I’m a visionary person. I can implement and execute. Some of my weaknesses are personnel management and financial management.”
When Watermark pointed out that those are some key qualities needed to successfully run an organization, Audebert said “the buck stops here,” but added, “This is why at MBA and Pride you have an entire board behind the operations and you have responsibilities that were treasury, vice president and so forth.”
He also argued that he did more than his share to bring in revenues and help both organizations grow.
Finally, Audebert asserts that the MBA mishandled the entire situation. When the COWP board voted to sever itself from the MBA, Audebert said the MBA board should have simply approached the COWP board and told them they made a mistake and were not authorized to make that change.
“There was absolutely no attempt to mislead or defraud MBA board,” he said. “It was a mistake that was made by the Pride Board, and as pointed out to the Pride board by the MBA board, all that the MBA had to do was point out the mistake to get it fixed. It really did not need to get this ugly.”
Whether he successfully sues or not, Audebert said he doesn’t see a future for himself in Orlando.
“They have taken everything I’ve done, everything I’ve built, everything I’ve worked very hard at rebuilding after losing everything in 2008 and literally have taken it to the trash,” Audebert said.